THE U.S. STEEL deal was made in 1901, but Leeds was already a fairly wealthy man by then. But as his financial struggle ended, so did his first marriage. In 1900 he divorced the woman whose money made his success possible. And she agreed – for $1,000,000, which at the time was considered the largest sum of money ever paid to obtain a divorce. In view of what would happen a year later, it might seem that even with $1,000,000, the woman was short-changed. However, I think it's safe to say Jeannette Irene Gaar Leeds did not regret her decision.
As for Leeds, he had already picked out a second wife, a 22-year-old stenographer, Nonnie May Stewart Worthington, who had shed her first husband two years earlier. Mrs. Worthington, better known to friends as Nancy Stewart, grew up in Cleveland. Where she was working in 1900, I don't know. One story said Leeds noticed her in an office, but didn't say if she was one of his employees or a stenographer elsewhere.
In any event, it would have been impossible not to notice her – wherever she was. One story called her "the most beautiful girl in Cleveland," which may not seem all that impressive, but from two newspaper photos that must have been taken when she was in her early 20s, I'd say the word "stunning" didn't do her justice. (The photo on the left was taken years later, but the date is unknown.)
Leeds was smitten and would remain so for the rest of his life, which, tragically, would come in 1908. He and Mrs. Worthington were married at the home of her parents in Cleveland. Leeds reportedly gave his new bride gifts worth at least $500,000.
The couple settled for awhile in Chicago. A year later, thanks to J. P. Morgan and U.S. Steel, Leeds was richer by many millions of dollars. After he and his partners invested their profits in the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad Company, Leeds became president of the company.
In 1902 Leeds purchased a 263-foot, $500,000 steam yacht, Noma. It was one of the fastest and most spectacular yachts of its day. I mention this only because it might help explain the interest – obsession is more like it – that would become so noticeable in the life of his son, William Jr., who someday would have a similar yacht, called Moana. (I haven't found a reason for either name, though, in the case of Moana, the world means "ocean" in most Polynesian languages, and Leeds Jr. spent a lot of time there.)
At the end of 1903 Leeds and his friend and partner D. G. Reid reportedly had a falling out. Leeds resigned as president of the railroad, but was made director of several other companies.
AFTER THAT he and his wife were little seen in the Midwest because they preferred New York City, with summers in Newport, Rhode Island, and frequent trips to Paris.
In 1905, Leeds, only 44 years old at the time, suffered a stroke, which left him partially paralyzed. The next year he suffered a second stroke.
After three summers in Newport, leasing the cottage called "Rough Point" (many years later the home of Doris Duke), the Leeds decided to buy the property from Frederick W. Vanderbilt. (Her poor reception in Newport reportedly made Mrs. Leeds bitter and was the reason she spent so much time in Europe after she became a widow.)
Leeds suffered a third stroke in 1907, then died several months later, on June 23, 1908, at the Hotel Ritz in Paris. At the time his wealth was estimated at between $30,000,000 and $40,000,000 (In 2011 dollars, that would be more than $900,000,000.
HE WAS BURIED at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York City in a mausoleum designed by John Russell Pope (who also designed the Jefferson Memorial). Pope was also engaged by Mr. Leeds at the time of his death, and was in the process of designing a new residence for the Leeds on Fifth Avenue.
His widow, who remarried and became known as Princess Anastasia of Greece, died in 1923 and also was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, but not in the mausoleum.
In 2002, Nancy Leeds Wynkoop, the daughter of William B. Leeds Jr. and Princess Xenia, had her grandfather’s body removed from the mausoleum and relocated next to his parents at Earlham Cemetery in Richmond, Indiana.
She had never met her grandfather, but said she made the decision out of concern that her grandfather was the only one entombed in the Leeds mausoleum, which has eight burial chambers.
Mrs. Wynkoop then gave the mausoleum to Woodlawn Cemetery, with the stipulation that $1.8 million from the sale of the tomb go to educational institutions she designated. The Leeds mausoleum went on the market in 2002 for an asking price of $5,000,000. The price was later dropped to $3.5 million, but it remains unsold.
William Bateman Leeds had a brother, Warner Miflin Leeds, who also became a millionaire in the tin-plate business. I find it odd that most stories about "the tin plate king" and his partners make no mention of Warner M. Leeds, but he definitely played a significant role. (The one story that did give him credit went so far as to put him on equal footing with his brother.)
WHEN WARREN M. LEEDS died in 1925, the bulk of his estate went to his adopted daughter, Joy Leeds, then 12. He wife, Louise, had died in 1923 in a fall from a fifth-story window at their home in New York City where she and her husband had become known for their lavish parties. Joy Leeds thus became one of the richest 12-year-old girls in the country. Oddly, she seemed to drop out of sight after that.
Jeanette Gaar, the first Mrs. Leeds, died in 1946 and was buried in the Gaar family plot at Earlham Cemetery. She and Leeds had one child, Rudolph Gaar Leeds. While William B. Leeds Jr. eventually received the bulk of his father’s estate, his half-brother received $1,000,000 from his father in 1908 and chose not to contest the will.
Rudolph G. Leeds was educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and at Harvard. For him, a million dollars was more than enough, especially since some of his business interests also involved his mother, who was a millionaire, if just barely. But by the standards of Richmond, Indiana, in 1908, she was a very wealthy woman.
Rudolph G. Leeds used his money to buy a newspaper in Richmond. He also ran the Indianapolis Sun. But that was only part of the story. While operating out of Richmond, he invested in real estate in New York City. Among his properties was a 12-story downtown apartment building. He also had a 700-acre farm in Indiana which he used to breed draught horses. He was a well-known progressive and in 1912 was a member of the national committee of Theodore Roosevelt's National Progressive Party (aka the Bull Moose Party). Rudolph G. Leeds died in 1964 and is buried at Earlham Cemetery.
THERE IS another William B. Leeds who adds a bit of confusion when you're scrolling down the Google trail. This William B. Leeds, also a native of Richmond, Indiana, became a well-known New York City lawyer. He was an uncle of "the tin plate king."
To complicate matters, his son, William Stuart Leeds, was called Billy Leeds, same as his second cousin, William B. Leeds Jr. This Billy Leeds grew up in Lakewood, N.J. I don't know if his father also lived there and commuted to Manhattan or whether his parents were divorced ... or whatever. At this point there are so many William Leeds too juggle that I'm getting dizzy. The thing is, before he became a broker in New York City, William Stuart Leeds (Harvard, class of 1910), aka Billy Leeds, briefly lived in Gary, Indiana, where he worked at the American Sheet Steel and Tin Plate Company. Because of his name and his resume, he has been called "the tin plate heir," which just isn't so.
Finally, there's the matter of a cream of mussels soup known as Billi Bi, a specialty at Maxim's Restaurant in Paris. Reportedly it was created by chef Louis Barthe. There are three different stories floating around about how the soup got its unusual name; two of those stories involve William B. Leeds, senior and junior.
Barthe created the soup before he met any of the men supposedly responsible for the name, which could have been given to the dish anytime from 1905 to 1925, or later. You'd think if Barthe was as famous a chef as he's portrayed, there would be some website that let people know where he did his cooking – and when.
In any event, the story goes that a rich American ate lunch every day at Maxims and always started his meal with the cream of mussels soup. I imagine that one day a waiter walked into the kitchen and groaned: " 'e's ere again, zat reech Amaireecan, zat Beelee Bee! Avray day, ze same teeng!"
Chef Barthe ladled the soup into a dish, smiled and said, "One bowl of beelee bee, cawming up!"
And thereafter it was known as Billi Bi and was so noted on the menu.
BOTH LEEDS, father and son, spent time in Paris. If the soup were named for senior, it almost would have to be 1905. Junior probably spent most of his time in Paris in 1922 and '23.
Another story says it was named in the 1930s after a Maxim's customer named William "Billy" Brand. A variation says Brand was a customer at Ciro's in Deauville, not Maxim's.
There's also a story that says Barthe created the soup in 1925 and that it was named after William B. Leeds Sr., which is the most interesting version of all – because by that time Leeds Sr. had been dead for 17 years.
Which gets us to both the end ... and the beginning. William B. Leeds Sr. is dead. But his name and his legacy would soon become famous around the world.